Job 36:1-15: Help in Pain
December 16, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Elihu is reproaching Job for complaining about his suffering. He is also frustrated that Job’s so-called “comforters” have been unable to reprimand Job sufficiently that Job sees the error of his ways. Therefore, young and inexperienced as he is, Elihu has nonetheless taken it upon himself to solve the problem. He wants to show Job’s comforters that they have failed to defend God’s justice. And he wants to show that Job is wrong to have complained about God’s justice. Whether what he is doing is worthwhile or foolish is up for debate, for God does not render a verdict about his words at the end of the book in the way that God does assess both Job and his friends. Most likely, Elihu is saying some true things, some false things, and on the whole speaking with zeal and passion, but without solving the conundrum of suffering which the book presents. Why does Job suffer? Elihu is only really concerned to make sure that no one concludes that God is at fault. But he does not help Job answer the problem of his own suffering for himself.
In these verses, the first part of chapter 36, Elihu is therefore defending the justice of God:
“Bear with me a little longer and I will show you that there is more to be said in God’s behalf. I get my knowledge from afar; I will ascribe justice to my Maker” (36:2-3).
He wants to make sure that God is shown to be fair and right and just. He does this by not only describing God’s power, or his might, but also by asserting that God rescues the suffering and brings down the unrighteous. The icy moral clarity that he brings to the problem is summarized at the end of these verses:
“The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help. They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction” (36:13-15).
For Elihu the answer to the problem is obvious: God does act righteously to the righteous, and acts in judgment to the unrighteous. But this seems to be begging the question: what then about Job? Why is he suffering? In these verses, Elihu does not draw out the conclusion directly. But the only obvious corollary can be that Job is suffering because he is unrighteous. And yet, as he insists, he is not unrighteous, has not done anything to deserve his suffering. And so Elihu—passionate to defend God’s cause though he may be—does not help answer the actual problem of suffering.
It is easy to belittle the difficulties that people face in their lives, or to make the answers to all difficult problems seem easy—because if they are hard it can call into question our own understanding and insight. Sometimes people face problems that are not readily solvable. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to listen to them tell us about their difficulties and pray with them and for them that God would help them see what it is that he is doing. Pious lectures, however passionate, are not usually the medicine that a suffering person needs.
Consider how different is Jesus! He comes alongside the broken and heals them. He takes the little girl by the hand and raises her from the dead. He makes the deaf hear and the blind see and the lame to walk. Let us rejoice that this is our Savior. And let us be like him in coming alongside those in pain to help them, not to lecture them with pious platitudes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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